Piet Hein War Misadventure (Ysel-Smits, 1942/1945)

Wednesday 18 February 1942, a fleet of five war vessels gathered in the harbour of Cilacap (Java) and continued their journey in the direction of the Badung Straits. The next day the vessels "De Ruyter", "Java", "Piet Hein", "Ford" and "Pope" arrived there with the objective of attacking a Japanese landing force, according to Lieutenant. A.C.J. Riel. Alas, the mission failed. Part of the crew stranded on Nusa Penida's shores and were welcomed by the inhabitants.


Image above: Banah Cliffs, Nusa Penida (FNPF, 2011)

Destroyer "Piet Hein" is sunk: Nusa Penidians offer assistance

Ysel Smits (also spelled IJsel Smits) states that when the "Piet Hein" was capsized on one side (over larboard), he and most of the crew 'walked into the sea' and tried to save their lives by swimming away. Ysel Smits swam until he came across a raft. He gives the following account of his attempt at saving his life, and the lives of fellow crewmembers.

Ysel-Smits' account

Coming from Nusa Penida, aboard the torpedo boat destroyer Hr. Ms "Piet Hein" (copy). Report by A.A.H van Ysel Smits, Lieutenant at Sea 3e Class.; On what took place on 19 February 1942 after the sinking of Ms. Piet Hein during the Battle in the Badung Straits.

As I presently recall the events, at around 2300 I fell into the water on larboard when the ship capsized over starboard. After having swum several meters, I felt two large explosions, presumably from the chambers. A while later, I found military sailor telegrapher Le Chat, from Balikpapan, from where he had been evacuated after the fall of Balikpapan. He was not able to swim and was hanging on to a 'bakskist'.

After some time had passed, we found a group of three broken rafts, party taken by (our) men, on which amongst other people sailor Pfennig was present. We had supplied these rafts with emergency rations in soldered petrol tins. No-one has ever encountered any of these tins. Later on, sailor Baalen joined the raft, (and) Native sailor Sadya. Lieutenant First Class Choderovsky had always shown great appreciation of Sadya, as well as Lieutenant Second Class Artillery Officer G.Zegers Veeckens. That night we peddled on. We witnessed a gun battle, presumably "de Tromp" and later on we thought we saw the TMB at a short distance.

The next morning (20 February), a difference of opinion arose over which way to continue, East or West. West meant mainland Bali, where the Japanese were. East was in the direction of Nusa Penida. One man on the raft died, I think it was Posthuma. Later on I gave his nameplate to OMSD [Officer of the Maritime Steamroller Services, GD] I Ir. N. Smit, who finally gave this nameplate to priest De Böffe in Mataram, according to OMSD I Ir. N. Smit. At approximately 1200 (20 February), I left the rafts and continued swimming, with the objective of ending the suffering.

The last time I looked at my watch it was 4PM. Then, I must have fallen asleep in my life jacket. At around 6PM I woke up, and straight ahead of me was a sloop and close by an empty small raft. The sloop couldn't hear me. I hadn't lost my mind and was alert. Then, I entered the small raft; I tied the bottom to the rafter and as I was very tired, and I went to sleep immediately. I had terrible night visions, and amongst other things, that night I have shot a pistol twice. Later on, on land, indeed I appeared to have shot twice with a gun.

21 February passed by in utter tedium and I grew quite apathetic. 22 February in the early morning, I hear cries for help when it was still dark. We approached each other by sound, and then I noticed my commander Lieutenant Fist Class Choderovsky was sitting there in a very crowded raft. He swam through an 'alus', a current stream, towards me. He was exhausted. Later that day, I found a paddle. At dusk, I found myself perhaps 1000 meters from the coast of Bali. We were able to discern the beating of the waves on the rocks. Until around 10PM I peddled on alone but stopped, as we didn't want to go ashore on Bali and I was tired.

23 February, transported along by the current. At night, I decided I had to paddle to the South in order to find an easterly current. That night, I tried hard to combat tiredness and just before dawn of the 24th, I found myself between the rocks of Nusa Penida and head over heals I decided to jump right into them. I struggled for six hours against the surf. A large shark was swimming underneath us all this time, and it gave me an eerie feeling. At around 1PM I managed to enter a small bay, where, at the far end, fresh water was flowing down the rocks, as we noticed afterwards. We suffered greatly because of the crabs, which tried to creep up through our trouser-legs.

A large seaplane flew above us twice at about 50 meters, the first time a Dutch Dorner, and the second time an American Catalina. On the 23rd the commander rinsed with salt water and on the morning of the 24th he drank salt water. I then rinsed my mouth with it. During these moments I had tried to prevent the commander from doing this, but my resistance broke on the 24th. I knew that salt water lowers the morale. When I told the commander: "Only another quarter of an hour", a little while later he began counting 11-10-9-8- six... and stopped at seven. He then lost consciousness. Then, I took his head on my knees, so as not to let his head go under the water.

Because of the surf, I was swept out of the raft, when it was cast over a rock. I swam back. The commander lay with his head under water, utterly still. It proved impossible for me to bring him ashore. That's why I lay him out as well as I could, and hang his rosary around his neck and put him in the raft, to ensure he would not fall out. On the 26th, he was washed ashore on Bali, recognised by two 'miliciens' in the presence of the 'res.' Second Lieutenant KNIL Riel and Controller BB (Domestic Administration), and he was buried on the Hindu Cemetery at Benoa.

banahcliff-FNPF-004Image left: Banah Cliffs, Nusa Penida (FNPF, 2011)

I then swam ashore, i.e. the rocks, and let myself be transported by the tide over the rocks and swam in more favourable waters for a while, until I was cast into a whole, half hidden under water, with peaks underneath and above, up to five times. As I was washed outwards the last time, I noticed a bamboo stick held out to me and with the help of two natives I clambered ashore. And I was able to drink right away. This took place at around 1.30PM. At dusk, I arrived at the Kampong Katja, where I stayed for two days and was taken good care of. On the 26th, I walked to Sampelan in eight hours on swollen bare feet with a hard and painful pig's skin as a substitute sole underneath my feet.

At Sampelan, I encountered OMSD First Class Ir. N. Smit, Sergeant Burger, Sergt. mechanic Van Eijssel, sailor Baalen, Van Cleve, Van Breding, Pfenning, sailor Swelteringa, Mil. Corporal Mach. Koster, Benny Rowland, Korp. bottelier Vlaming, in total 16 men. Lieutenant at Sea Zeegers Veeckens in the company of a few non-commissioned officers, amongst whom major mach. Slot and Corporal Tel. Nak, who had died while trying to climb a rocky cliff, were still somewhere on a beach. OMSD I Ir. N. Smit and especially Corporal mach. Koster know more details about this. At Sampelan there were 16 men when I arrived there on 26 of February. In total, there would have been around 41 men.

On the 21st of February, under the guidance of Mil. boatman Mayer, a group left from Bali to Java and arrived there safely. When on the 2nd of March, OMSD I Smit spoke to his doctor in Karangasem, it was a known fact that Mayer had already passed Buleleng when the Japanese arrived there. A few native cooks from the "Piet Hein" have worked for two days and then ran away. From 28 February until 1 March the OMSD N.Smit went to check things out in Bali, accompanied by amongst other people Van Cleve and Koster. Smit left on his own to Karangasem and was told by the native doctor that he had sent us - sometime previously - medication, pillows etc. through the mantri nurse at Sampelan, who presumably stole these goods. The poengawa has been very helpful. Together with the Raja of Denpasar he had agreed to organise a crossing to Lombok and (promised) not to betray us to the Japanese, for the time being. The poengawa, by the way, was not a stout and thorough chap. The previous two times, a proa and its entire crew, which had been sent by us, had run away.

Presently, the OMSD N. Smit returned from Bali, and in the meantime I had managed together with the poengawa to organise a proa, paid for by the Raja (F35-), which was going to take us to Labuhan Tering (Lombok) in 36 hours. The poengawa on Nusa Penida was a man of very good intentions, who has done a great deal for us, but had little authority. The 'zelfbestuurder' (Raja) of Denpasar had not betrayed us to the Japanese during those first 10 days, as the Japanese hadn't asked questions, according to him.

Ysel-Smits survives the war

A.A.H. van Ysel-Smits reports the journey he made together with a number of other survivors of the "Piet Hein". After the surrender to the Japanese on 7 March 1942, he went to Lombok (14 March 1942), Sumbawa (16 March 1942), Bima (23 March 1942), Reo or Rutung. He was then betrayed to the Japanese and on 16 May 1942 he gave himself in, and was captured as a prisoner of war, and was subjected to forced labour. Later on, he was transported to Ende (Flores) and Makassar (Sulawesi) in the company of sailor Baalen (until 2 October 1943). He spent some time in Batavia in Camp Sonei (5 October 1943), then from Glodok to Adek around 4 February 1944 and was moved to Depot Bat at Bandung (28 October 1944) and in April 1945 to Depot LOG in Bandung. After he was moved again to Batavia, the war ended on 15 August 1945. Ysel wrote down all of these data on 7 December 1945 from nothing but his own personal memories, as he had lost his diary.

"Piet Hein" deceased commander Choderovsky on a raft at Benoa

In an official report (procès-verbal), Naval Commander Company, Lieutenant at Sea First Class J. van Haga on 23 March 1946 reports to the Navy Commander at Batavia of a report by Intelligence Officer Naval Coy J.H. van de(r) Wall, that a grave was found of an unknown European at Benoa, probably of the Lieutenant First Class Choderovsky. In February 1942, Choderovsky had been the commander of the destroyer "H.M. Piet Hein". Interviews with the local population at Benoa are discussed regarding the raft, which had stranded on the beach of Benoa early February 1942, in front of the Chinese cemetery. In the raft was the corpse of a man, bend forward, dressed in khaki clothes, his fist clutched tightly around a scoop (gayung). Choderovsky had not been dead for long, since the body was stiff but didn't stink. According to the local informants, Choderovsky had no possessions of any kind. This is the reason that Van de Wall thinks that the locals, who had discovered the corpse of Choderovsky, had taken all of his possessions. Given the account above by Ysel Smits, this opinion seems to hold true.

Other navy crewmembers landed at Banyuwangi & Klungkung

Sailor First Class C. van de(r) Wal, after the "Piet Hein" was sunk, was picked up by a yacht and delivered at Banyuwangi (East Java) with a few other crew members of the "Piet Hein". The same goes for shipmaster H.H. van Schoonhoven, and a Major mechanic pupil, Sergeant Mach. 't Hooft, Sergeant Konst. Soetermeer (in total seven 7 men). Konst. M. J. Jager was also brought to Banywangi. Stoker First Class G. van de Wetering (wounded) was still on a raft at that time, in the company of Dr. Voorst, Corporal Mach. Van der Meerveld, Corporal Torp. Van Uchelen, and boatman Bleekers, and came ashore in Klungkung on 21 February 1942. They were captured by the Japanese, who transported them to Denpasar.


  • http://www.gahetna.nl/collectie/archief/inventaris/index/eadid/2.12.51/inventarisnr/84: Rapport van de ltz 3e klasse, A.A.H. van IJsel Smits inzake de krijgsverrichtingen en ondergang van de Hr. Ms. Piet Hein tijdens de slag in de Straat van Badoeng; Rapport van J.H. van de Wall inzake het aanspoelen van een vlot aan de kust met daarin een dode, waarschijnlijk de commandant van de torpedobootjager Piet Hein; Rapport van lt. A.C.J. Riel inzake de krijgsverrichtingen en ondergang van de Hr. Ms. Piet Hein met als bijlage een situatieschets waar vermoedelijk de commandant van de torpedobootjager Piet Hein ligt begraven; Samengesteld verslag van enkele overlevenden, de matroos C. v.d. Wal, schipper H.H. Schipperijn, matroos J. Jager en stoker G. v.d. Wetering na de vernietiging van de Hr. Ms. Piet Hein.

Note 1: discretion

This document was viewed at the National Dutch Archives (NA, Nationaal Archief - Dutch National Archives) in The Hague, February/July 2013. It was the NA's explicit request to refrain from publishing the names of the people involved as a way of respecting the privacy of those still alive today. Therefore, all names in this report are fictitious, except for the names of - amongst others - A.A.H van Ysel Smits , N.J.C. Smit, Zêgers Veeckens, Nak and Slot. The reasons for this are that 'Smit' can be found online as part of the title of present report, and Zêgers, Slot and Nak have reportedly died, as stated by Smit in 1945 in this report.

Note 2: Cross of Merit: A.A.H. van IJsel Smits

A.A.H. van IJsel Smits (born Ochiuri, Romania 16-10-1918 / deceased Hilversum, Netherlands 28 May 2005) of Dutch nationality, Lieutenant (junior grade) with the Dutch Royal Navy. By Royal Decree no.23, the Cross of Merit (Kruis van Verdienste), a bravery award, was granted to him on 23-11-1948. Notes: Badoeng Strait / Noesa Penida / Flores / Soemba. After the military vessel Hr. Ms. Piet Hein had perished, he was rescued heavily wounded and attempted an escape to Australia, until he was captured by the enemy. Date: 19 February 1942.

Source: https://www.defensie.nl/onderwerpen/onderscheidingen/dapperheidsonderscheidingen/databank-dapperheidsonderscheidingen/1948/11/13/ijsel-smits-a-a-h-van

Original Dutch text

Afkomstig Noesa Penida, Hr.Ms "Piet Hein" (afschrift); Afschrift. Verslag van A.A.H van YSEL SMITS, Luit. Ter Zee 3e kl.; Over tijdsverloop 19 Februari 1942 na het zinken van Ms. Piet Hein in de slag in straat Badoeng.

Zoals ik het mij nu herinner omstreeks 2300 raakte ik te water aan bb toen het schip kapseisde over sb. Na eenige meters gezwommen te hebben voelde ik twee zware ontploffingen, vermoedelijk van de ketels. Even later vond ik Le Chat mil.matroos telegrafist afkomstig van Balikpapan, vanwaar hij geëvacueerd was na de val van B.P. Hij kon niet zwemmen en hing aan een bakskist.

Na eenigen tijd vonden wij een reeds gedeeltelijk gevulde groep van 3 stukke vlotjes, waarop o.a. matroos Pfennig. Deze vlotjes hadden wij voorzien van noodrantsoenen in dichtgesoldeerde petroleumblikken. Niemand heeft ooit één van deze blikken gevonden. Later kwam daarbij matroos Baalen, Inl. matroos Sadya. Over Sadya was Lt. I Choderovsky altijd uiterst tevreden, evenals Lt.II G.Zegers Veeckens, off.van Art. Die nacht peddelden wij door. Wij hebben een vuurgevecht gezien, vermoedelijk "de Tromp" en later meenden wij nog T M B te onderscheiden op korten afstand.

De volgende ochtend (20/2) ontstond er meningsverschil welken kant wij uit zouden gaan, Oost of West. West was hier Bali, waar de Jap. zat, Oost was naar Noesa Penida. Een man in het vlot overleed, ik meen Posthuma. Later heb ik zijn naamplaatje aan OMSD I Ir. N.Smit gegeven, die dit tenslotte aan Pastoor De Böffe in Mataram afgegeven heeft volgens OMSD [Officier van Marinestoomvaartdienst, GD] I Ir. N.Smit. Omstreeks 1200 (20/2) heb ik de vlotjes verlaten en ben gaan zwemmen, met de bedoeling een eind aan het lijden te maken.

't Laatst keek ik op mijn horloge ten 1600. Toen moet ik in slaap zijn gevallen in mijn zwemvest. Ten +/- 1800 werd ik wakker met recht vooruit een sloep en vlakbij een leeg vlotje. Die sloep hoorde mij niet. Ik was goed bij min positieven. Toen begaf ik mij in het vlotje; bond den bodem vast aan de balk en gezien ik doodmoe was, ben ik meteen gaan slapen. Ik heb vreselijke nachtvisioenen gehad, o.a. heb ik dien nacht 2 x met pistool geschoten. Later aan de wal bleek ik inderdaad twee schoten gedaan te hebben.

21 Februari ging voorbij in groote verveling en werd ik apathisch. 22 Februari 's morgensvroeg hoorde ik nog [bij] donker hulpgeroep. Wij naderden elkaar op geluid, en toen bleek mijn commandant de Lt.I Choderovsky daar in een overvol vlotje te zitten. Hij zwom door een aloes, stroomrafeling, naar mij toe. Hij was al zeer vermoeid. Later op den dag vond ik een peddel. Tegen den avond bevond ik me, naar schatting 1000 M. Van Bali vandaan. Wij konden de golfslag op de rotsen hooren. Tot 2200 heb ik alleen doorgepeddeld maar stopte, omdat wij eigenlijk niet op Bali aan land wilden en ik moe was.

23 Februari doorgedreven met de stroom. 's Avonds besloot ik naar het Zuiden te peddelen om een oostgaande stroom te vinden. Die nacht doorgewerkt tegen vermoeidheid in en bevond mij even voor licht worden van de 24ste tusschen de rotsen van Penida Noesa en dook daar hals over kop in. Zes uur lang in de branding gestreden. Een groote haai zwom steeds onder ons door, die mij een onprettig gevoel gaf. Tegen 1300 gelukte het een inham binnen te loopen, waar op het eind zoet water, zooals later bleek, langs de rotsen stroomde. Wij hadden veel last gehad van krabben, die onze broekspijpen inkropen.

(p.2) 2x vloog een groot watervliegtuig ca. 50M over ons heen, eens een Ned. Dorner, eens een Amerikaansche Catalina. De 23e spoelde de cdt. met zout water. De 24ste 's morgens dronk hij zout water. Ik spoelde er toen mijn mond mede. Ik had al dien tijd de cdt. ervan afgehouden, maar mijn weerstand brak de 24ste. Ik wist dat zout water drinken het moreel neerslaat. Toen ik de cdt. zeide, "Nog een kwartier" begon hij even later te tellen 11-10-9-8- zes... en stopte in de zeven. Hij zakte weg. Ik heb hem toen met zijn hoofd op mijn knieën genomen, waardoor hij niet onder water gleed.

Bij de branding sloeg ik uit het vlot, toen dat over een rots geslagen werd. Ik ben toen eerst teruggezwommen. De cdt. lag met het hoofd onder water stil. Het was mij onmogelijk hem op het land te brengen. Daarom heb ik hem toen zoo goed mogelijk afgelegd, zijn rozenkrans omgehangen en zoo in het vlot gelegd, dat hij er niet uit kon slaan. De 26ste is hij op Bali aangespoeld, herkend door 2 miliciens en in bijzijn van de res. 2de lt. KNIL. Riel, Controleur BB (zie bijvoegsel Lt.Riel), begraven op het Hindoe-kerkhof bij Benoa.

Ik zwom toen naar de wal, i.e. de rotsen, over het branding rotsblok liet ik mij glijden en zwom even in rustig water, totdat ik plotseling in een half onder water, met pieken van onder en boven, hol werd geslagen, tot 5x toe. Bij de laatste maal naar (b)uiten spoelen, zag ik een mij toegestoken bamboe en met behulp van 2 Inlanders klauterde ik aan land. En kon meteen drinken. Dit was omstreeks 1330. Met het vallen van de avond kwam ik in kampong Katja aan, waar ik twee dagen bleef en goed verzorgd werd. De 26ste liep ik in acht uur op gezwollen bloote voeten met een harde pijnlijke varkenshuid als surrogaatzool naar Sampelan.

In Sampelan vond ik Omsd. I Ir. Smit N, Sergeant Burger, Sergt. Monteur Van Eijssel, matr. Baalen, Van Cleve, Van Breding, Pfenning, matr. Swelteringa, Mil. korpl. Mach. Koster, Benny Rowland, Korp. bottelier Vlaming; totaal 16 man Ltz Ii Zeegers Veeckens met nog eenige onderoff. o.a. majoor mach. Slot en Korp.Tel.Nak, die doodgevallen is bij rotsenopklimmen – hierover weet OMSD I Ir. N. Smit en korp.mach Koster in het bijzonder meer te vertellen - , zaten nog ergens op een strandje. Op Sampelan waren toen ik daar op 26/2 aankwam 16 man. Totaal zijn daar 41 man geweest.

O.l.v. Mil.bootsman Mayer is een ploeg via Bali op +/1 21 Feb. naar Java gegaan en aangekomen. Toen OMSD I Smit 2 Maart dien arts in Karangasem sprak, was daar bekend, dat Mayer Boleleng al gepasseerd was toen de Jap. daar aankwam. Eenige inlandsche koks, van de "Piet Hein" hebben 2 dagen gewerkt en zijn toen weggeloopen. Op 28/2 tot 1/3 is OMSD N.Smit een kijkje gaan nemen op Bali, daarbij is o.a. meegegaan Van Cleve en Koster. Mijnheer is alleen naar Karangasem gegaan en hoorde daar van de Inlandsche arts, dat deze al een poosje geleden geneesmiddelen, kussens etc. naar ons opgestuurd had via de mantri verpleger te Sampelan, die dat vermoedelijk achtergehouden heeft. De poengawa is zeer behulpzaam geweest. Samen met de Radja van Den Pasar was hij overeengekomen ons naar Lombok te helpen en voorloopig niet te verraden aan de Japanners. Overigens was hij geen flink en doortastend optredend man. De twee vorige keeren, was een door ons gestuurde prauw met bemanning weggeloopen.

Nu kwam OMSD N. Smit terug van Bali en in dien tusschentijd had ik met den poengawa een prauw in orde gekregen door de Radja betaald ad. F35.--, die ons naar Laboehan Tering (Lombok) in 36 uur bracht. (p.3) De poengawa op Noesa Penida was een man van zeer goede wille, die zeer veel voor ons gedaan heeft maar had niet veel gezag. De zelfbestuurder van Denpassar heeft ons de eerste 10 dagen waarschijnlijk niet verraden aan de Jap., omdat de Jap. hem niets gevraagd had, volgens zijn zeggen.

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